The Future Looks Brighter for Premature Babies Thanks to Stem Cell Research and Tissue Engineered Intestines


Dr. Tracy Grikscheit is a leading surgeon in the field of tissue engineering. Dr. Grikscheit, together with her colleagues at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, co-authored an article for the Cell Stem Cell journal that features a discussion of tissue-engineered intestines for babies born prematurely. Tissue engineering is a procedure that takes place in the laboratory and creates new tissue from stem cells.

A recent article in Science Daily highlights Dr. Grrikscheit’s work and explains how premature babies are often born with underdeveloped and diseased intestines. Currently, the options for a small number of healthier babies are intestine transplants. Even then they must wait months to be strong enough to endure the procedure.

Necrotizing enterocolitis is one of the diseases that attacks the intestines of premature babies. If the disease becomes severe, surgery must be performed to remove the portion of the intestine that has become infected

Dr. Grikscheit’s article is associated with a European consortium known as INTENS.  One of its goals is to establish bowel reconstruction. This is accomplished by way of tissue engineering and as a treatment for patients with short bowel syndrome.

About Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS)

Babies who are born without the normal amount of healthy tissue, when part or all of the small intestine is missing, can develop dehydration and malnutrition. The bowel cannot perform its normal function and the result is an intestine failure or short bowel syndrome.  Currently, SBS cannot be cured.

Treatment includes parenteral nutrition which involves being fed by needle directly into the bloodstream (intravenously). The survival rate is low and the cost of treatment is extremely high.

Another method involves the use of a feeding tube. The most dramatic solution for severe short bowel syndrome is intestine transplant using donor tissue.

But transplants present many problems such as the baby having to wait months until it is big enough and strong enough to undergo major surgery.

Another complication involves the side effects that accompany the requisite anti-rejection medications. The third consideration is that only about 50% of intestine transplants are successful.

The doctors are cognizant of these complications and the dire prognosis for these babies. They are determined to continue their work with new stem cell tissue that will eventually extend the lives of babies with serious intestinal impairments.

About Stem Cells

Stem cells are the perfect material for organ repair as they are capable of developing into many different types of cells.

Stem cells may help babies with intestinal disorders in one of two ways. They can either come from the patient’s intestine or they can be taken (“off the shelf”) from a stem cell supply that is then engineered as intestinal tissue.

Both methods have advantages. The treatment may be decided in accordance with the child’s condition.

It is noteworthy that the researchers have recently been able to generate large stockpiles of intestinal tissue. The numbers have been increasing every year.

Dr. Grikscheit acknowledges that they are not ready to deliver the therapy to babies but she states that their plans are on track and they are “getting closer”.

Rose Duesterwald

Rose Duesterwald

Rose became acquainted with Patient Worthy after her husband was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) six years ago. During this period of partial remission, Rose researched investigational drugs to be prepared in the event of a relapse. Her husband died February 12, 2021 with a rare and unexplained occurrence of liver cancer possibly unrelated to AML.

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